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Justices: Ex-wife must agree to lower sales price

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously held that a trial court had no authority to modify a property agreement made by ex-spouses and that the ex-wife is entitled by law to refuse to waive a provision that neither party had to accept a sale that was below specified minimums.

When Sean and Dee Anna Ryan divorced in 2008, they agreed to sell a property they had in Granger and a lake house in Michigan. Until the properties sold, Sean Ryan would pay 75 percent of the mortgages; Dee Anna Ryan would pay the remainder. In the agreement, the two could “bind” each other to accept a purchase price as long as the “resulting net proceeds” equaled at least $1.1 million on the Granger house and at least $300,000 on the lake house.

For two years, the properties hadn’t sold, so Sean Ryan sought a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 60(B)(8) so that the court could order that the properties will be sold at the prevailing fair market value and he could accept a price lower than stated in the agreement without his ex-wife’s consent.

The trial court denied the request, but the Court of Appeals ordered the court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion.

The justices agreed with the trial court that it didn’t have authority to modify the property-distribution agreement without Dee Anna Ryan’s consent. The agreement was incorporated and merged into the divorce decree and did not provide for, nor did the parties consent to, modification, Justice Frank Sullivan wrote.

A court can have authority to resolve a dispute over the interpretation of a settlement agreement or property-division order, he noted, and the court’s task would be one of contract interpretation.

In the instant case, the justices found that the Ryans’ agreement as to the disposition of their properties is unambiguous. As a matter of contract law, Dee Anna is bound to agree to the sales prices for the properties that would produce net proceeds less than those stated in the agreement.

“We conclude by saying that, in writing this opinion, we have been struck by the recurrence of several fact patterns that have been avoidably problematic – the use of specific dollar amounts rather than percentages, the failure of a QDRO’s terms to conform to ERISA requirements, the failure to provide a contingency if the marital residence cannot be sold – and trust that practitioners and judges alike will contemplate them in their work as well,” Sullivan wrote.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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